“Solar drag” received a grant in the amount of USD 750 thousand

Usually, solar sails are proposed to be used to disperse spacecraft. But the Spinnaker project acts on the contrary — it slows them down. The concept of a drag solar sail is designed for the de-orbiting of spent satellites. It was in Spinnaker Drag that NASA engineers saw a cheap solution to the problem of the accumulation of space debris in the vicinity of the Earth. For their invention, the authors of the concept received initial funding in the amount of USD 375 thousand from the investment company Manhattan West, supported by NASA under the contract for innovative research of small businesses.

Spinnaker sail deployment test. Image: Vestigo Aerospace/Purdue University

Spinnaker is a creation of engineers from Vestigo Aerospace. Thanks to an additional financial injection from NASA, it now has total funding of USD 750,000. This will allow the company to start commercial production of “solar drags” as early as 2023. 

The invention was the result of numerous discussions in the American space community about space debris in recent months. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has even drafted an order to destroy spent satellites in low Earth orbits. Moreover, the responsibility for this should be placed on the shoulders of satellite manufacturers. Therefore, such a break may be of interest to private companies.

“The Spinnaker line of sails meets the growing need for reliable satellite de-orbiting capabilities at the end of their missions to maintain low-Earth orbit cleanliness. Spinnaker Drag is very easy to mount on a satellite and offers a cheap way to get rid of near-Earth orbits from space debris. If we don’t start solving this problem now, the clogging of the orbit can become a serious threat to the development of the space industry,” said David Spencer, founder and CEO of Vestigo.

A solar sail (drag) Spinnaker unfolding during a ground demonstration. Image: Vestigo Aerospace/Purdue University

After the sail is put into operation, it can be used on satellites regardless of whether they work or not. The “solar grag” can be deployed on command or with the help of a backup timer, providing a reliable possibility of de-orbiting for burning in the upper atmosphere, even if the satellite has been out of order for a long time,” explain the engineers of Vestigo Aerospace.

Although the development of the technology is at an early stage, Vestigo has already tried to test its Spinnaker concept in orbit. Unfortunately, the prototype was destroyed during the debut test flight of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket, which ended in an explosion shortly after launch in September 2021.

Earlier we reported on how astronauts are throwing garbage out of the ISS in a new way.

According to Space

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